x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Baby boom in Dubai puts pressure on nursery places

A pre-financial crisis baby boom and more expatriate families moving to Dubai are heaping pressure on the nursery education system.

Demand for nursery and primary school places is soaring in Dubai as a baby boom before the global downturn hit starts to put pressure on spaces.
Demand for nursery and primary school places is soaring in Dubai as a baby boom before the global downturn hit starts to put pressure on spaces.

Demand for nursery and primary school places is soaring in Dubai as a baby boom before the global downturn hit starts to put pressure on spaces.

More families moving to the emirate and an increase in the number of working mothers are also exacerbating the shortage, say nurseries.

The scramble for school places reflects further evidence of a strengthening local economy, say economists. Improving job security and, in some cases, salary hikes, encourage more parents to send their children to nursery from an earlier age.

"We are currently full and some classes are already booked up for the new academic year in September," said Melinda Nichols, the administrator of Ladybird Nursery in Jumeirah.

"Part of that is the trend of expatriates who have settled down in Dubai and have had children here."

The UAE birth rate has dropped from 16.06 per cent in 2008, the year before the downturn, to 15.87 per cent this year, according to data from the CIA World Factbook. It reached 18.96 per cent in 2006.

Greater competition among parents chasing a limited number of nursery spaces means education fees have also been pushed up above the rate of inflation. Fees rose 3.4 per cent in the first quarter of the year compared with the same period last year, data from Dubai Statistics Centre (DSC) show.

"Schools will charge what they think customers are willing to pay," said Mark McFarland, an emerging-markets economist at Emirates NBD. "There's clearly a supply-side issue, with capacity reacting quite slowly to changes in the population."

The emirate's population is expected to reach 2.03 million by the end of this year as it grows by an average of 7,000 a month, according to DSC.

The growth follows two years in which analysts estimated the emirate's population declined as job losses linked to the downturn led to an exodus of expatriates.

But anecdotal evidence suggests many couples starting families opted to stay put once the financial crisis hit, heaping pressure on education spaces as their children reach nursery age.

"A lot of people have stayed out here for their young kids. The set-up is brilliant as you can be outside for nine months of the year and home help is affordable," said Lyndsay Anderson, whose three-year-old daughter attends a nursery in the Springs area.

Some nurseries are expanding and opening branches in new communities to meet rising demand.

Kensington Nursery is receiving strong interest in its new pre-school in Silicon Oasis, designed to cater for up to 200 students when it opens in September. "There are geographic pressures on nursery education within parts of Dubai," said Tracey Furey, a senior adviser at Kensington Nursery. "Generally, there are more expatriate families where both parents are working so that's accelerating demand."

With growing waiting lists, expatriate families newly arriving in Dubai can struggle to find a place for their child straight away.

The squeeze on spaces may also reflect pressures higher up the education age group in the emirate's school system, too, said Linda Thomas, the director of Alphabet Street Nursery in Umm Suqueim.

"We are getting a lot of applications from parents whose children can't get into schools as there's no places," she said. "We have a lot of children applying for September who we're trying to find places for."

tarnold@thenational.ae